Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the second-highest executive official of the United States government, the person who, in the words of Adlai Stevenson, is "a heartbeat from the presidency."
As first in the presidential line of succession, the Vice President becomes the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President. The Vice President also serves as the President of the Senate, and may break any tie votes in that chamber.
The government jargon that often acronymizes the President of the United States as POTUS similarly applies VPOTUS to the Vice President. More casually, the title is abbreviated Veep. The current Vice President of the United States is Dick Cheney.
To hold the office, the Vice President must satisfy the same constitutional qualifications as the President. The Vice President must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least thirty-five years of age and a resident of the United States for 14 years. As an individual must be constitutionally eligible to be President in order to serve as Vice President, a former two-term President would be ineligible.
Traditionally, the Vice President-Elect takes office just before the President-Elect. Unlike the President, the Constitution does not specify an oath of office for the Vice President. Several variants of the oath have been used since 1789; the current form, which is also recited by Senators, Representatives and other government officers, has been used since 1884:
- I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Under the original terms of the Constitution, the members of the U.S. Electoral College voted only for office of President rather than for both President and Vice President. The person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) would be President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President. If no one received a majority of votes, then the U.S. House of Representatives would choose between the five highest vote-getters, with each state getting one vote. In such a case, the person who received the highest number of votes but was not chosen President would become Vice President. If there was ever a tie for second, then the U.S. Senate would choose the Vice President.
The original plan, however, did not forsee the development of political parties. In the election of 1796, for instance, Federalist John Adams came in first, and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson came second. Thus, the President and Vice President were from different parties. An even greater problem occurred in the election of 1800, when Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied the vote. While it was intended that Jefferson was the Presidential contender and Burr was the Vice Presidential one, the electors did not and could not differentiate between the two under the system of the time. After 35 unsuccessful votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas Jefferson finally won on the 36th ballot and Burr became Vice President.
The tumultuous affair led to the adoption of Amendment XII in 1804, which directed the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. While this solved the problem at hand, it ultimately had the effect of lowering the prestige of the Vice Presidency, as the Vice President was no longer the second choice for President.
The Constitution also prohibits electors from voting for both a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate from the same state as themselves. In theory, this might deny a Vice Presidential candidate with the most electoral votes the absolute majority required to secure election, even if the Presidential candidate is elected, and place the Vice Presidential election in the hands of the Senate. In practice, this requirement is easily circumvented by having the candidate for Vice President change the state of residency as was done by Dick Cheney who changed his legal residency from Texas to Wyoming, his original homestate, in order to run for election as Vice President alongside George W. Bush.
Formally, the Vice Presidential candidate is nominated by the party convention. However, it has long been the custom that the Vice Presidential candidate has been effectively named by the Presidential candidate. Often, the Presidential candidate will name a Vice Presidential candidate to bring geographic or ideological balance to the ticket or to appeal to a particular constituency.
Role of the Vice President
President of the Senate
- Main article: President of the Senate
As President of the Senate (Article I, Section 3), the Vice President oversees procedural matters and may cast a tie-breaking vote. There is a strong convention within the U.S. Senate that the Vice President not use his position as President of the Senate to influence the passage of legislation or act in a partisan manner, except in the case of breaking tie votes. As president of the Senate, Adams cast twenty-nine tie-breaking votes—a record that no successor has ever threatened. His votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees, influenced the location of the national capital, and prevented war with Great Britain. On at least one occasion he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams' political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint in the hope of realizing the goal shared by many of his successors: election in his own right as president of the United States.
In practice, the Vice President rarely presides over day-to-day matters in the Senate; in his place, the Senate chooses a President pro tempore (or "president for a time") to preside in the Vice President's absence, and the Senate maintains a Duty Roster for the post so that no single Senator serves in the post more than any other.
One duty required of President of the Senate is presiding over the U.S. Electoral College. This is the process of the counting and presentation of the Presidential and Vice Presidential electoral votes in the presence of both houses of Congress, on January 6 of the year following a U.S. presidential election. In this capacity, only four Vice Presidents have been able to announce their own election to the Presidency: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George H. W. Bush.
Though he was President of the Senate, Vice President John C. Calhoun believed he would have more power as a Senator. When he was elected to the Senate from his native South Carolina, he became the first Vice President to resign the office.
Growth of the office
For much of its existence, the office of Vice President was seen as a little more than a minor position. John Adams, the first Vice President, described it as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Even 150 years later, 32nd Vice President John Nance Garner famously described the office as "not worth a pitcher of warm piss" (at the time reported with the bowdlerization "spit"). Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th Vice President, lamented: "Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." When the Whig Party was looking for a vice president on Zachary Taylor's ticket, they approached Daniel Webster who said of the offer "I do not intend to be buried until I am dead." The natural stepping stone to the Presidency was long considered to be the office of Secretary of State. It has only been fairly recently that this notion has reversed; indeed, the notion was still very much alive when Harry Truman became the Vice President for Franklin Roosevelt.
For many years, the Vice President was given few responsibilities. After John Adams attended a meeting of the President's Cabinet in 1791, no Vice President did so again until Thomas Marshall stood in for President Woodrow Wilson while he travelled to Europe in 1918 and 1919. Marshall's successor, Calvin Coolidge, was invited to meetings by President Warren G. Harding. The next Vice President, Charles G. Dawes, was not invited after declaring that "the precedent might prove injurious to the country." Vice President Charles Curtis was also precluded from attending by President Herbert Hoover.
In 1933, Roosevelt raised the stature of the office by renewing the practice of inviting the Vice President to cabinet meetings, which has been maintained by every President since. Roosevelt's first Vice President, John Nance Garner broke with him at the start of the second term, on the Court-packing issue, and became Roosevelt's leading political enemy. Garner's successor, Henry Wallace was given major responsibilities during the war, proved incompetent, and was relieved of actual power. Roosevelt kept his last Vice President Harry Truman uninformed on all war and postwar issues, such as the atomic bomb. The need to keep Vice Presidents informed on national security issues became clear, and Congress made the Vice President one of four statutory members of the National Security Council in 1949.
Richard Nixon reinvented the office of Vice-President. Although he had no formal power, he had the attention of the media and the Republican party. Eisenhower ordered him to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence. Nixon demonstrated for the first time that the office could be a springboard to the White House; most Vice Presidents since have followed his lead and sought the presidency. (Nelson Rockefeller did not, and it is widely believed that Dick Cheney will not.) Nixon was the first Vice President actually to step in to run the government temporarily: when Eisenhower suffered a heart attack on September 24, 1955; ileitis in June 1956; and a stroke in November 1957.
The formal powers and role of the Vice President are limited to the Presidency of the Senate, including a casting vote in the event of a deadlock. This was important in the first half of 2001, as the Senators were divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats and thus Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave the Republicans the Senate majority. (See 107th United States Congress.)
Their other functions are as a drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policy, as an adviser to the President, as Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as a Member of the board of the Smithsonian Institution, and as a symbol of American concern or support. Their influence in this role depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration. Cheney, for instance, is widely regarded as one of George W. Bush's closest confidantes. Al Gore was an important advisor to President Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment. Often, Vice Presidents will take harder-line stands on issues to ensure the support of the party's base while deflecting partisan criticism away from the President. They often meet heads of state or attend state funerals in other countries, at times when the administration wishes to demonstrate concern or support without having to actually send the President to do so.
Normally, candidates for President will name a candidate for Vice President when they are assured of the party's nomination. Since the Presidential candidate is now generally known before the party convention, this announcement is now typically made in the first day or so of the party convention. Generally, the choice of running mate is ultimately made by the Presidential candidate alone (although with considerable counsel from advisors) and often is done to create balance on a ticket. It is common for the Vice Presidential candidate to come from a different region of the country than the President or appeal to a slightly different ideological wing of the party. The 12th Amendment discourages the Vice President from legally residing in the same state as the President, as Electors must vote for at least one candidate not in the same state as themselves. However, the ease of changing one's state of residence (as Richard Cheney did in 2000) minimizes the effect of this provision.
In recent years, the Vice Presidency has frequently been used to launch bids for the Presidency. Of the 13 presidential elections from 1956 to 2004, 9 featured the incumbent President; the other 4 (1960, 1968, 1988, 2000) all featured the incumbent Vice President. Former Vice Presidents also ran, in 1984 (Walter Mondale), and in 1968 (Richard Nixon, against the incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey).
Succession and the 25th Amendment
The U.S. Constitution provides that should the President die or become disabled while in office, the "powers and duties" of the office are transferred to the Vice President. It remained unclear as to whether the Vice President actually became the new President or merely Acting President. This was first tested in 1841 with the death of President William Harrison. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler, asserted that he should gain the full Presidential office, powers, and title. Despite some strong calls against it, Tyler took the oath of office, becoming the tenth President. Tyler's claim was not challenged legally, and so the precedent of full succession was established.
The Constitution still left several questions unanswered, however. If the Vice President died in office, resigned, or succeeded to the Presidency, there was no process for selecting a replacement, so the office of Vice President remained vacant until the next Presidential election. Additionally, the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22 1963 provoked the question of who has the power to declare that an incapacitated President is unable to discharge his duties. This question prompted the adoption of Amendment XXV to the U.S. Constitution in 1967.
Section 2 of the 25th Amendment provides that "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." Gerald Ford was the first Vice President selected by this method, after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1974; after succeeding to the Presidency, Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President.
Sections 3 and 4 of the amendment provides means for the Vice President to become Acting President upon the temporary disability of the President. Section 3 deals with self declared incapacity of the president, and section 4 deals with incapacity declared by the joint action of the Vice-president and of a majority of the Cabinet. While section 4 has never been invoked, section 3 has been invoked twice: on July 13, 1985 when Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon, and again on June 29, 2002 when George W. Bush underwent a colonoscopy procedure requiring sedation. Prior to this amendment, Vice President Richard Nixon informally replaced President Dwight Eisenhower three times for a period of weeks each time when Eisenhower was ill.
Vice Presidents of the United States
- Main article: List of U.S. Vice Presidents by time in office
Prior to ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, no provision existed for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President; as a result, the position was left vacant 16 times until the next ensuing election and inauguration. Since the adoption of the 25th Amendment, the office has been vacant twice while awaiting confirmation of the new Vice President by both houses of Congress.
1 Arriving in New York City before President-elect George Washington, Adams was sworn as Vice President nine days before the President.
2 Died in office
3 Resigned from office
4 Succeeded to Presidency upon death or resignation of President
5 The only Vice President to be sworn in outside of the United States (in Havana, Cuba), with special dispensation from Congress.
6 Became Vice President under provisions of 25th Amendment
7 Acted as President under provisions of 25th Amendment
Vice Presidential facts
Two served under two different Presidents
- George Clinton under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison
- John C. Calhoun under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson
Seven died in office
- George Clinton in 1812
- Elbridge Gerry in 1814
- William Rufus de Vane King in 1853
- Henry Wilson in 1875
- Thomas Hendricks in 1885
- Garret Hobart in 1899
- James Sherman in 1912
- John C. Calhoun resigned in 1832 to take a seat in the Senate, having been chosen to fill a vacancy.
- Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 upon pleading no contest to charges of accepting bribes while governor of Maryland.
Nine succeeded to the Presidency
- John Tyler became President when William Harrison died. Chose not to seek full term.
- Millard Fillmore became President when Zachary Taylor died. Chose not to seek full term. Four years later, ran and lost.
- Andrew Johnson became President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Chose not to seek full term.
- Chester Arthur became President when James Garfield was assassinated. Sought a full term, but was not re-nominated.
- Theodore Roosevelt became President when William McKinley was assassinated; then was elected to full term. Didn't seek re-election. Four years later, ran and lost.
- Calvin Coolidge became President when Warren Harding died; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
- Harry Truman became President when Franklin Roosevelt died; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
- Lyndon Johnson became President when John Kennedy was assassinated; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
- Gerald Ford became President when Richard Nixon resigned; then lost election to full term.
Four sitting Vice Presidents were elected President
- John Adams (1789-1797) was elected President in 1796.
- Thomas Jefferson (1797-1801) was elected President in 1800.
- Martin Van Buren (1833-1837) was elected President in 1836.
- George H. W. Bush (1981-1989) was elected President in 1988.
One non-sitting former Vice President was elected President
Thirteen other men became President direct from the Vice Presidency without a break, either by succession on the death or resignation of the President (9), or by election when the incumbent President retired (4). Nixon is the only person who had a break between his Vice Presidency and his Presidency.
Two have been Acting President
- George H. W. Bush acted as President for Ronald Reagan on July 13, 1985.
- Dick Cheney acted as President for George W. Bush on June 29, 2002.
They officially acted as President due to presidential incapacity under the 25th Amendment.
Five former Vice Presidents are still alive
Three were named Johnson
Seven served two full terms
Note on spelling
Vice President may also be spelled Vice-President or Vice president or Vice-president. Because the modern usage is Vice President, it has been used here for consistency.
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